De’Sean Jones’ love for playing music happened by accident.
When he was 12 years old, his father gave him a saxophone. It wasn’t because Jones wanted to learn the instrument, but to win a bet against his dad. Jones heard clips of jazz artists legends like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and thought he could learn to play like them.
“I was like, ‘You know what, Dad? I could do that,’” he said. “And I’m talking big (expletive). He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. If you think you can really do this, I’ll buy you a horn right now. Trumpet, trombone, saxophone, whatever you think you want to play. But if you can’t play in six months, I’m taking it back. I’m getting my money back.’
“Twenty-some odd years later, I’m pretty sure I won the bet,” Jones said.
Now 35, Jones is a two-time Grammy nominated composer and arranger and one of the most well-known musicians in Detroit. As a teenager, he was mentored by jazz trumpet great Marcus Belgrave and played with artists like trumpeter Gerald Wilson and saxophonist Donald Walden. In addition, Jones has played with artists ranging from The Clark Sisters to Stevie Wonder.
The North End musician is also part of the Detroit techno scene as a protege of record producer “Mad” Mike Banks and member of the musical collective Underground Resistance.
Jones’ own collective, Urban Art Orchestra, will perform Friday with house and R&B group Dames Brown inside the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Sosnick Courtyard. The concert is at 8 p.m. with tickets starting at $20.
“They have so much power and they’re so professional and precise,” Jones said of Dames Brown. “And there’s this love, you can really feel the love in the sound that we bring together as an orchestra.”
A collaboration with Detroit’s best and baddest
Jones created the Urban Art Orchestra as a way to play with other musicians in the community. The collective debuted in April 2022 at Cliff Bell’s as a quartet and has since grown into a 30-piece ensemble with the “baddest musicians in the city,” according to Jones. Members include harpist Ahya Simone and DJs Deon Jamar and DJ Fingers.
Jones said the jazz/R&B/hip-hop orchestra is a mix of friends in the music industry and artists that are referred to him. They also collaborate with musicians outside of metro Detroit like Ann Arbor and Flint.
“It really creates an opportunity to do this much broader scale collaboration with the elite talent of creative minds and musicians in the metro area,” Jones said.
Friday’s concert will be a celebration of techno music with Dames Brown and some songs from Underground Resistance, the musician said. The event will be hosted by Detroit rapper and poet Monalyse.
Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton is founder and 1st principal of the Detroit School of Arts where Jones attended high school. Davis-Cotton remembers the 2006 graduate as a scholar, leader and mentor dedicated to ensuring the arts were connected to Detroiters and their communities.
“He believes in the pedagogical structure of the fine and performing arts. He continues to soar as he promotes orchestral music to young people in the City of Detroit, she said.
Jones said Urban Art Collective is a convergence of the different musical cultures that makes up Detroit.
“Everybody kind of convenes at this one spot and suddenly you get an opportunity to have a beautiful conversation through the medium of music and through the lens of a celebration of Detroit,” he said. “If you’re a Detroiter, you love your city through the good, the bad and the ugly, right? You love it all and so we get to have those really raw and honest conversations through the music.
And I get a chance to experience music that’s trapped in my mind, but like on the fullest scale imaginable and I’m entirely thankful for it.”
Orlando P. Bailey contributed